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Health reform, Medicare and your doctors

Published 02-27-2012 2:47 PM | Mark D. Birdwhistell  

With so much discussion and debate out there about health care reform, the federal budget and changes to Medicare, it can be difficult to keep everything straight.

To that end, we hope to use this space to keep you informed about how all those issues come together and affect your health care.

Concern over access 

As I talk with seniors, one of the biggest concerns they express to me is whether they will continue to be able to see their doctors.

It's a valid concern. There are several factors on the horizon that could impact how available doctors are to Medicare beneficiaries.

But it's also important to remember that at UK HealthCare, we will continue to see every patient that comes to us, regardless of how the political winds blow.

Pending a Supreme Court decision expected later this year and this fall's election, the future of health reform is subject to change. But let's take the long view first.

More patients, lower payments 

When health reform takes effect in the fall of 2014, about 32 million more people will have insurance than have it today. That means 32 million more people could begin to seek out primary care doctors, specialists, therapists and other providers.

Unfortunately, health reform did not address increasing the number of physicians. Despite support from UK and other academic medical centers, the legislation did not create the additional capacity we need to train more doctors.

So, the same number of doctors could be flooded with millions more requests for visits, possibly making it more difficult to get an appointment.

The second factor is whether doctors will keep their doors open to Medicare patients if payment rates decline.

As part of the debate over our federal government's debt, a special committee in Congress failed to come up with solutions to keep the debt from growing in the future. As a result, federal spending will be cut across the board, and that includes what the government pays doctors to treat Medicare patients.

Those cuts are scheduled to take effect in January 2013. Doctors could decide to limit the number of Medicare patients they will accept.

We did, however, get some good news recently. Earlier this month, Congress acted to prevent a 27.4 percent cut in the Medicare rate the government pays doctors.

Steps you can take 

So, with so much uncertainty, what can patients do now to ensure they continue to receive quality care?

The most important step is to establish a solid relationship with a good doctor - or doctors if you have multiple health problems requiring different specialists. If you don't have a doctor you see regularly, find one you're comfortable with. Develop a true partnership with your medical team. You'll know them, and make sure they know you.

That way, despite an uncertain future, you'll be with providers whose true interests lie in keeping you healthy.

Page last updated: 3/6/2013 10:26:18 AM